Their targets fixed, three abreast they swooped past star systems. Anomalies, phenomena, the knowledge and teachings of the universe were of no interest; all distractions, unwelcome and cast aside like congealed gristle from a slaughter blade. For a slaughter it would be. The honourless blHnuch could surely detect them now, and still they ran like dogs. They barely deserved the chance to redeem themselves in battle that, as warriors, the Hunters of D’Ghor were bound to offer them. They would be run down and before their throats were cut, they would learn to be proud of such a death. They would welcome it. Fek’lhr could only smile upon such an act, and when the members of the excommunicated house made their blazing descent to Gre’thor perhaps he might allow them victory in the sacred battle.
Coolant steam vented from a bulkhead grate, filling the Jat’lh’s bridge with the noxious vapour. “Why are we still out of RANGE?” Chorr roared, smashing his fist against the arm of the command chair.
“The Federation ships are at warp 8.5, sir.” The pilot ignored Chorr’s outrage, concentrating on the distance readout in front of him. “Seven million qelI’qam and closing.”
Chorr’s growl was low and guttural, “Not fast enough.” He gripped the chair, eyes narrowed, “Fek’lhr must have his sacrifice in blood, today.”
A metallic whir sounded as the periscope lowered from the bridge ceiling. Chorr brought it close to his face, magnifying to being the stern of the USS Stavanger into view. He cycled to the next target and the USS Tulwar’s curved profile filled his field of vision. His breathing quickened and he pushed back the scope. His voice erupted in a gravelly snarl, “I can smell glory!” Shouts of enthusiasm accompanied him, swelling raucously until Chorr’s barked orders cut through the unruly din. “Signal the Su’ghar and Maveq. MORE SPEED!”
The Jat’lh had seen better days, but she rose to the occasion. What remained of the ship’s inertial dampeners struggled to compensate for the surge of raw power that forced itself through its propulsion systems. The deck rattled. Cries of anticipation echoed through the Jat’lh’s corridors as the bird of prey accelerated to warp 8.8, warp 9, warp 9.5, until finally, “Warp 9.8, sir.”
Chorr could feel the rush of battle course through him. He stood and the ship rattled beneath his feet. Even if she was torn apart by the speed, it would be a glorious death. He punched the intercom across all vessels, “Today, we are warriors again. TO BATTLE!”
Across the com link, and throughout the three ships, 36 Klingon voices called out across the void. They hammered their feet in a deadly rhythm,
“Qoy qeylIs puqloD.
yoHbogh matlhbogh je SuvwI’”
The USS Ahwahnee’s tactical station sounded like an angry insect as the alert flashed up in front of Alex Lupulo. “Captain,” He spoke up from behind where Felrak and Tursk sat reviewing the most recent hourly reports, “The Stavanger is reporting Klingon ships increasing speed. Sir… They’ve reached wap 9.8.”
“Get me Thrix and De Vries.” Felrak fired back at Lupulo, and the images of both commanders quickly appeared on the main viewer.
“They’ve got the juice and they’re getting close, sir.” The Bolian looked relaxed as his bridge bustled around him.
The red glow of the alert lighting splashed against De Vries’ pale features, her eyes emotionless, “We estimate they’ll be on top of us in thirty minutes.”
Felrak cut straight to it, “We’re not going to avoid a fight here. If they’re tailing us at warp we’ve got the range advantage. Hit them with all the torpedoes you can, when you can.”
“Alright, Captain, we’ll let ‘em have it.” Thrix stretched back his broad shoulders as if limbering up.
“Get as much speed up as you can and draw them into the Ahwahnee’s weapons range. With all three ships throwing torpedoes we can knock them out of warp and be on our way.”
De Vries looked skeptical, “Here’s hoping it goes that smoothly.” Her auburn hair was tied back in a utilitarian ponytail that bobbed as she looked down towards her tactical data display. “Torpedo range in five minutes.”
“You have your orders, Commanders. Whatever happens, stay with the group.” The comm link was cut, the Captains replaced by the spherical hull of an Olympic class medical ship on the main viewer. Two more flew close, and Felrak pictured the command crews on each ship in their state of high alert. He looked down towards his own tactical display, at the runabouts in formation at the head of the convoy. Silently he thanked the forests that the Orwell and Bonaventure had arrived when they did. The strategic edge was his, for now.
Thrix watched intently as the lead bird of prey closed in, “Photon torpedoes, standby…” His elbow rested nonchalantly on the armrest. The Tulwar’s bridge crew moved with a singular focus. Only the ambient input tones and warp engine hum could be heard as they drew upon their training. They exuded a cool professionalism, refusing to acknowledge the mental exhaustion that accompanied the latest in a string of engagements with the House of D’Ghor.
“Ten seconds until the lead Klingon vessel is within range.” Announced the Lieutenant in the tactical booth.
“Fire when ready. Full spread.” Thrix responded.
Three red flashes screamed across the shrinking gap between the USS Tulwar and the Jat’lh. The first found its mark, detonating on impact with the bird of prey’s forward shields. For a moment a green shimmer was visible against the antimatter explosion shockwave, channeling the kinetic energy away and around the ship. The next two torpedoes sailed past their target into the abyss behind.
“They’re running countermeasures… It looks like a high density polaron field interfering with our targeting sensors.” The frustration could be heard in the tactical officer’s voice.
With no time for emotion, Thrix was matter-of-fact, “Compensate. Fast.”
Three more torpedoes, this time from the Stavanger, blazed across space. The Jat’lh’s shield absorbed another hit, but again two of the projectiles flew past harmlessly.
“Lead ship’s shields down to 25%.”
Thrix straightened up. Visible furrows ran across his brow, wrinkling the facial bifurcation that cut across his darkening blue skin at a perpendicular, “Not fast enough, we’ll be within range of their torpedoes if we don’t knock them out of warp soon. Fire at will.”
The Tulwar’s rear launcher lit up, propelling yet more destructive antimatter out from the apex of the Saber Class’ boomerang curve. The Jat’lh took another hit, collapsing its forward shields. Flames from the explosive annihilation ripped across the forward hull, polarised armour plating dissipating the full brunt of the explosion. Despite now being fully exposed to the next torpedo volley, the bird of prey pressed doggedly forward.
“They’re coming up on us.” Thrix stated to no one in particular, “We need another volley NOW.”
A two tone alert sounded, alerting him to what could clearly be seen on his display. This was confirmed by a harangued call from tactical, “Sir, we’re within their weapons range.”
Thrix whirled around to face the officer, “Full power to aft sh-”
Molten electroplasma from conduit 116A streaked flames across the rear section of the Tulwar’s bridge. Torpedoes fired simultaneously from each bird of prey impacted and punched through the ships rear shielding. Catastrophic levels of electromagnetic energy fed back through the ship’s EPS grid and antimatter containment systems. The warp core stuttered, struggling to maintain power like a wounded animal that knew it had to keep running. It clung to life, as if aware of the consequences of being separated from the herd. Klaxons blared, coolant vented, a tremendous shuddering sigh ran through engineering. Then the warp field collapsed.
The USS Tulwar spun awkwardly on a vertical axis as it fell out of warp. With propulsion systems offline, sheer momentum carried it forward. It floated, blown like a leaf in the eye of a storm. Its pursuers had themselves dropped to sublight speed, and were already making their approach. Their prey, fallen, alone, was ready for the taking.
A stunned silence fell across the bridge of the Ahwahnee. The blip on sensors that had been the Tulwar was gone. There was no comm chatter, no reports, only the silence of the ever growing void of space between the drifting ship and the convoy that charged ahead.
“So they’re just gonna pick us off…” Lupulo was the first to speak up, “No strategy, no objectives, just take us down one by one.”
Tursk’s face twitched with irritation, “Is that your tactical analysis, Lup?”
“We’ve all read the reports, Commander. We know what these… D’Ghor are doing to the people they ‘hunt’. If we let them at us, just like that? Feels a lot like we’re just leaving those people on the Tulwar to it. And we’re inviting D’Ghor back for the next round, sir.”
“You’re saying that as though we’re not under orders to keep going.” Tursk’s face reddened, “And next time I hear you question those orders, Lieutenant, it’s going to be a long time before you’re back on this bridge.”
“Oh so that’s how it’s gonna be? You’re hiding behind orders while the Tulwar crew get slaughtered? Always knew you liked the rules, Tursk but never had you down for a-”
Felrak cut him off, saving the incensed New Yorker from a night in the brig, “Enough. Mr. Lupulo, go and analyse that tactical data. I want to know about that polaron interference, and I want to know why those torpedoes were not hitting their targets. Tursk, hail the runabout squadron immediately. Let them know I have a proposal for them.”